“I’m excited because we just finished shooting a new music video,” Amanda Martinez says, speaking by phone from Toronto. We are in late September. Almost a year has passed since I first interviewed the singer-songwriter. In that interview, Martinez talked about her journey from knocking on doors to play in clubs around Toronto to performing sold-out shows across North America and releasing four studio albums in-between.
Estaba Cayendo is the new single from Martinez’s latest album, Libre. For the music video, she partnered with Adrián Ramírez Juárez and Akari Fujiwara, dancers from Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, and famed choreographer Debra Brown, best known for her decades-spanning career with Cirque du Soleil. The dancers had not worked together for months, and it was her first time meeting them. “It was certainly nice to be with everybody and doing something creative.”
Another music video is in the works — actually, it premieres tomorrow. Martinez wrote Liberame with good friend Kellylee Evans, a Juno Award-winning jazz vocalist, two years ago. Martinez and Evans recorded the song together for Libre. Over email, Martinez tells me that the music video had a small crew, with everyone wearing masks when they were not performing. About the song, Martinez says:
“[Liberame] is about being imprisoned by your own fear, and the music video conveys the idea of picking yourself up again and not being afraid to reach out for support. I am really proud of the music and the friendship and experience behind it. Kellylee and I have been through a lot together, and I have been so inspired by how she has overcome so many challenges with so much grace.”
Let’s go back to March
In her March newsletter, Martinez postponed her plans to launch Libre in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The album launch would have seen Martinez perform in New York, Cleveland, and Chicago.
“I had just finished getting my U.S. visa to travel,” Martinez says. “And then, we started hearing about how bad Covid was getting. The clubs were starting to shut down. We were waiting and waiting to hear what was going to happen. And then, I got a call from Ohio, and they said they were going to be closing until further notice, and that included my tour dates. Eventually, I was like, with everything that’s happening, I can’t see people going out.”
A flood of questions poured in for Martinez. “What are we going to do financially, and how long is this going on? What do I do with the album? Do I still launch it?” Martinez would launch her album in late October, but it would move forward without a tour.
Like many other artists, Martinez and her husband, Drew Birston, started playing livestream concerts. I ask Martinez if her April concert for the City of Toronto’s City Hall Live Online series was the first time she performed online. “It was actually. I had never done it before…and it was nerve-wracking.” The experience was very different for Martinez, a singer with twenty years of live performance under her belt. “But it was also fun to see people’s comments on the screen as they were watching us.”
The next month, Martinez performed a Cinco de Mayo concert for another livestream series, Canada Performs. I was lucky to catch the show, which I tell Martinez was a lot of fun to watch.
“That one I got to have a little tequila before we started!”
It would be several months until Martinez performed in-person for a live audience. Her first “real concert” was an outdoor and socially distanced private event. “It felt very healing to do that, versus performing from my phone in my living room.”
In these last eight months, Martinez says she has been doing more online yoga and cooking at home. “And I’m trying to do more artwork with my kids,” she says. “For me, it’s always a struggle to get them off the screen and engaged in other activities we can do together.”
I ask Martinez about the future, specifically if these eight months have made her reconsider her music career.
“Yeah, for sure. We are supporting a family of five. I definitely am considering all my options and relooking at things. It’s tough because I know that’s where my heart is. I’ve been out of doing anything else for the last twenty years. I also do some acting. I have had some acting auditions recently. I have had some shows air, too. I guess I just try to put as much faith in the future as possible and not worry because when I think practically, it doesn’t make sense.”
It is the end of October. A full year has now passed since my first interview with Martinez. She and I talk briefly over email about launching Libre in the United States. Since “everything is up in the air touring-wise,” the album launch will be all digital. Martinez is promoting the album through media interviews and her new music videos.
“The album will be available in stores through CEN/Sony Orchard, however, I won’t be giving any CD release concerts in person,” Martinez writes. “The album launch is different with the pandemic as it doesn’t involve any touring or traveling, which is where I have the chance to really connect with my audience. I love performing live and certainly miss this big part of the process!”
I ask Martinez what the album means to her and what she hopes people will get from listening to it.
“Libre was written with many different songwriters, and I hope that people will feel that sense of openness and freedom that I felt when we were making the album. I am grateful to all of the musicians who were involved and contributed to the spirit of the music, and I hope that the listener will hear the love that it was made with.”
When I spoke with Martinez last month, I asked her what she would like to achieve in the next few months. Launching her album was one answer, and writing new music was another. She also told me that working with the dancers from Canada’s Ballet Jörgen reawakened her love for dance. She would like to engage in collaborative songwriting with dancers and try incorporating the dancers into a live show.
As I look back on our first interview, I remember something Martinez said when she talked about landing her first gig in Toronto. It stuck with me after the interview ended. I knew I had to highlight it when I published the blog post. And I think about it again now with Martinez’s album launching tomorrow.
“When I made that decision to go for it, there was no stopping me.”